The two founders of Protegg.
Photo: Protegg

Protegg: Transforming residues into raw materials

Every day, 12,000 tonnes of residues are produced in egg production. The Munich-based startup Protegg is taking on the challenge of transforming these mass residues into new raw materials, entirely in the spirit of the circular economy. In an interview, the founders Markus Johanning and Fabian Hütter explain to us what exactly their plan is.

Munich Startup: What does your startup do? What problem do you solve?

Protegg: We are all about two things: green innovation and recyclability! Protegg deals with the transformation of the unused industrial residues hen’s egg membrane and hen’s eggshell into the novel, standardised raw materials ESM (Eggshell Membrane) and calcium carbonate/lime.

Protegg is the first company in the world that can produce bioplastics from ESM. These can not only substitute petroleum-based plastics, but also act as a carrier material for technical applications in the field of sensor technology. Using these special carrier material properties, Protegg has developed, for example, the world’s first physical DNA token.

The unique capabilities of the patent pending Protegg bioplastic make it possible to functionally integrate synthetic DNA with defined information into this bioplastic. The result is an unforgeable DNA token that can protect the information stored in it for over 100 years, keep it readable and integrate it in any form into products of any kind. Other sensors are also currently being developed, primarily in the field of water analysis and soil analysis.

In addition, Protegg offers a sustainable alternative to commercial lime. The biogenic calcium carbonate we extract from the shell can be used in various areas such as fertiliser, filler for plastics, construction industry, cosmetics industry, and food industry.

Why all this? We want to make invested energy usable again, transform residual materials into high-quality raw materials and thus actively promote the topic of recyclability and impact.

Egg residues largely unused so far

Munich Startup: But that’s nothing out of the box!

Protegg: In fact, the bulk residual material eggshell and eggshell membrane is not currently used in the sense of the circular economy. However, some research has shown that these residues have enormous potential. Currently, there are no companies that convert this mass residual material globally into standardised raw materials and produce innovative products from it. And this despite the fact that eggs are produced all over the world!

Munich Startup: What is your founding story?

Protegg: The project began back in 2018. One of the founders of Protegg, Fabian, identified the unused bulk residue and initially began with initial experimental material tests in his kitchen. His focus here was particularly on the eggshell membrane, a highly interesting protein mixture with unique material properties. With promising material developments in hand, Fabian met Markus, the second founder of Protegg, in 2020. The creative and inventive strength of Fabian and the strategic and entrepreneurial strength of Markus harmonised from the very beginning and form the foundation of the company.

Together, Fabian and Markus built up a strong network in all relevant areas, won their first prize in 2021 at PlanB – Biobasiert in Straubing, started working with the Fraunhofer Institute IGB and finally founded Protegg GmbH in April 2022. Today, the first pilot plant is already in place at our partner from the egg processing industry, in which the residual material is transformed into standardised raw materials and makes them available for the market.

Munich Startup: What have been your biggest challenges so far?

Protegg: We have created a very big challenge for ourselves with the introduction of new raw materials into the raw materials market. ESM is a completely new raw material, the bioplastic made from ESM is a world first, and it is necessary to first convince stakeholders from all camps to try out and use new types of raw materials and applications. Habits and fads have often crept in, especially in large companies, which do not form an optimal basis for openness to innovation and technology. We are continuously working to show that our material and our company can at least keep up with the status quo, both technically and strategically, and look forward to the first “courageous” stakeholders who want to take advantage of the great benefits of new recyclable materials.

Munich Startup: Where would you like to be in one year, where in five years?

Protegg: In a year’s time, we plan to have various separation plants in Germany and Central Europe. We sell the biogenic lime produced to interested companies in the filler industry and building materials industry. We are developing our innovative products, such as the DNA token for brand protection, with one or more pilot partners based on the differently defined needs of the companies and are selling the first small series.

Our other sensors, which are currently being developed in 2023, are already finding their first places of use and are enabling the substitution of classic plastic in the sensor industry.

Within five years, we aim to implement our developed separation process in all German egg processing industries and to grow further in Europe in order to capture the unused residual material quantities in Germany as completely as possible. After we have successfully established our separation technology in Germany, the next logical step for us is to expand into countries outside of Europe where the residue volumes are many times higher.

With regard to the development of products from the raw material eggshell membrane, we would like to place further sustainable biosensors on the market in five years. In addition, the first pilot customers are to be equipped with the newly developed food packaging made from eggshell membrane in order to not only bring innovative products made from this raw material to the market, but also to replace petroleum-based mass products.

Daily 12,000 tonnes of residual materials that can be converted

Munich Startup: How have you experienced Munich as a startup location so far?

Protegg: We have actually experienced relatively little in Munich so far but would like to get more involved in local projects and networking events in the future. For some time now, we have been well integrated into networks around the Biocampus in Straubing and the TGZ. Straubing has been developing splendidly in the field of bioeconomy startups for several years. Perhaps the two locations can be combined in a targeted way, which would certainly be a benefit for all involved.

Munich Startup: Hidden Champion or Shooting Star?

Protegg: Hidden Champion! Our goal is to use our technology to recycle the mass residual material from eggshells and eggshell membranes that is produced worldwide. Every day, 3.8 billion eggs are produced worldwide, of which 1.2 billion are industrially processed. This means that 12,000 tonnes of residual material are produced every day. Converting this residual material into usable raw materials is the way to a resource-saving future!